What makes Izzy, the 12-year-old boy at the cent of "The Best Thief in the World," the best thief in the world is not just that he seldom gets caught. It is also the fact that he hardly steals anything. Oh, the odd candy bar here and there, or a few dollars. But when he encounters a huge wad of money, he seems barely interested. His thievery is, for the most part, in word only.
Played by new-comer Michael Silverman, Izzy is a most interesting boy, and an intriguing character to watch in this most enlightening slice-of-life picture from Jacob Kornbluth ("Haiku Tunnel"). He's the oldest of three children who live barely supervised in a low-rent Manhattan apartment. Their mother, Sue (Mary-Louise Parker), an English teacher on summer break, is preoccupied with caring for their father, Paul (David Warshofsky), who recently suffered a debilitating stroke.
The younger kids do well enough, but Izzy, on the cusp of adolescence, is at the age where mischief is his default setting. He spends his time climbing through fire-escape windows into neighbor apartments when the tenants are out, performing minor, mostly harmless, acts of vandalism before exiting. It is not aggression that drives him, but boredom and a desire for random rebellion.
As these kids often do, he falls in with a bad crowd, older kids whose level of juvenile delinquency far exceeds his own. Caught between wanting to fit in and his basic nature as a good kid who loves his mom, Izzy has to make some tough decisions. His choices would probably be your choices, too, if you were him.
As coming-of-age movies go, this one is far less melodramatic than most. It allows for kids to be kids, not forcing them to be miniature grownups or manipulating their experiences into something more meaningful than they are. Silverman is fantastic as Izzy, his precocious mind masked by his innocent-looking, boyish face. He's a kid you could trust, if you didn't know better.
Mary-Louise Parker is also wonderful as Sue, a woman overwhelmed by the burdens places upon her. She's an underappreciated actress, in part because she doesn't do very many films. But every time I see her, I enjoy watching her, that lazy intensity, that manner of speaking that suggests mild exasperation in everything she says.
It's a nice film. It's not perfect, but it's good. Despite being rife with harsh profanity, it has a pleasant, affable feel to it. It's a movie that wants you to like it, and is actually worth liking.
Showtime screwed up a little in the presentation. For one thing, there's a director's commentary, but it's not mentioned on the back of the DVD case. Reading that, you'd think the only "extras" were a photo gallery, cast filmographies and previews of other films -- no real extras, in other words, when in fact there's a perfectly good director's commentary.
Furthermore, on the audio set-up menu, the words "Captioned for the hearing impaired" appear at the bottom -- yet it's impossible to choose that as an option. The cursor won't move to it. Even during the movie, pressing "info" and moving to the "subtitles" option fails to bring up any captions. Kind of a cruel trick for hearing-impaired people, when you think about it.
There is an alternate Spanish-language track.
VIDEO: An excellent anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer from what was apparently a spotless print. There's a little edge enhancement, but it's not bad. In general, the gritty, naturalistic look of the film has been transferred well to the DVD.
AUDIO: In English, you get either Dolby Digital 5.1 or Dolby Digital Stereo. There's also a Spanish track in which the background and sound effects are in stereo but the dialogue is mono -- which might explain why the back of the DVD case says mono while the audio set-up menu says stereo. They didn't know what to call it, so they hedged their bets and called it both.
Anyway, the English tracks are both stellar. The film was recorded on location in New York, and the sounds of the city come through loud and clear. The balance between music and dialogue is good, too.
EXTRAS: There are some useless filmographies, photos and previews, but no one cares about those. Writer/director Jacob Kornbluth does a commentary, however, and it's a down-to-earth, easy-going presentation. No shocking revelations, just little anecdotes about the actors' processes and his own process in writing the film. There are some small patches of silence here and there, but when he does speak, he's not just rambling. He gives some real insight into his film that will increase a viewer's appreciation of its themes. He also reveals himself as a much more knowledgeable and serious filmmaker than you might expect.
There are no other extras, which is a shame. Surely there were deleted scenes or outtakes that could have been included.
It's a shame the film was never theatrically released, premiering at Sundance in January 2004 and going straight to Showtime a year later. It wouldn't have been a blockbuster, but it might have gained a small, appreciative audience on the arthouse circuit. The DVD release presents the movie itself very well, with a fine commentary, but the lack of other extras makes me hesitant to recommend buying it as opposed to just renting it.
(Note: Most of the "movie review" portion of this article comes from the review I wrote when the movie was released theatrically. I have re-watched the film in the course of reviewing the DVD, however.)